It’s hard to picture Isaac Dunbar, Gen Z’s dazzling alt-pop ascendant, juxtaposed against the quaint promontory of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, but that’s exactly where he is right now, self-isolating in his family’s New England home. For context; I’ve just watched the music video for makeup drawer where every pore of Dunbar shimmers silver and, later, a tiered donut hat (seen to be believed) is worn with such effortless majesty only Lady Gaga could have ordained the coronation with a disco-stick.
At the age of 17, many will inevitably describe the talent displayed on Dunbar’s debut album as precocious, yet the phenomenal, well-earned success of artists such as Billie Eilish and Troye Sivan tells us we should really know better by now. After all, the pains of youth have gifted the world some of our most truthful, vibrant and emotionally charged music. Across the 7 tracks of this promising debut, a hop-scotch of genres, we usher in a new generation of the singer/songwriter.
Donut-crown aside, the disarming, electronically-driven make-up drawer touches on internalised homophobia, effeminacy and Dunbar’s experience of being outed by a trusted friend ;
And I know where you’ll be / You locked the door to my makeup drawer
And you know where I’ll be / Rummage galore through my makeup drawer
The album’s resplendent ear-worm comme des garcons (like the boys) is a leap off the conveyor belt and rejection of traditional gender norms in pursuit of the authentic self, compounded in an infectious chorus ;
I don’t wanna be the same / I don’t wanna be like you / I don’t wanna be
comme des garçons / comme des garçons
Strategically placed towards the beginning of the record, it stands out as the most radio-friendly track before a sharp left-turn into the darker, raw landscape of suicide and the forlorn, pastoral scorton’s creek. Scorton’s, not Dawson’s. (Shout out to Jack McPhee. Why are creeks so angsty?)
Isaac’s Insects most compelling moment is, however, saved for last on colony. Amidst the disco dry-ice emerges a nocturne with startling, glass-like fragility. Here, fragments of spectral piano accompany Dunbar’s voice, now in full-flight, soaring to its conclusion ;
And when I die / Cross my heart / When I die / Yeah they’ll see me
And when I’m dead / When I’m dead / Bury me / Bury me
With the colony
In the darker, Casper reboot of my incredibly niche dreams, colony soundtracks *that* slow-dance in the cobwebbed ballroom with Christina Ricci (iconic 90’s moment here for educational purposes).
Lyrically sophisticated, genre-fluid, candid – Isaac’s Insects is a rare find. A polished pop treasure that glints a little differently every which way you turn it.
“Can I keep you?”
By Mateo Oxley